The Wharton EMBA: Connecting Two Coasts

A photo from this spring's Wharton/San Francisco EMBA graduation. Photo courtesy of The Wharton School

A photo from this spring’s Wharton/San Francisco EMBA graduation. Photo courtesy of The Wharton School

Can you speak a little more about the executive coaching program and how, specifically, that works?

We pair up a student with a coach—either that coach is from the Philadelphia region or San Francisco. They do one on-campus meeting with their coach and then after that they get either four or five subsequent meetings that they can schedule either in-person and on campus, if that’s more convenient with them, or what we find is many like to do a phone call or Skype meeting for those who don’t live particularly close to campus.

What we do is give them the luxury of deciding what they want to gain from the coach. So they do get orientation on what coaching is, but then it’s up to the student and the coach to think about where they want to take it. And it really does depend on where the person is in their professional life and what they see moving forward in the next couple of years. And so it’s actually highly individualized, which I think is one of the benefits.

Are there any other areas or industries like energy or entrepreneurship that are becoming more popular in the EMBA program at Wharton?

Yeah, the other one that’s really picking up is health care. And that’s not too surprising if you think about all of the upheaval in that industry in the past five years or so. We’ve introduced in the executive program one elective course a couple of years ago—before that it had been somewhat sporadic—our students vote on which electives they’d like to see, so it’s dependent on their interests. But as our health care contingent has grown, the interest in health care classes has grown as well.

And so this year, we’re actually offering three health care electives overall, including an overview of the health care industry. But then we have two other classes, one on the financial management of health care institutions and another focused around health care delivery. One is finance, one is econ, and another that looks at the health care systems in the U.S. and around the world.

We’ve also added on access to alumni organizations in the health care industry so that students can take advantage of a pretty strong group of Wharton alumni in the health care industry. On a smaller scale, we are going to pilot this year what we are calling ’empowered dinners’ where we bring in prominent alumni from health care for a dinner with 10 to 12 students to really give them personal access to this individual. We’ve inviting both full-time MBA and executive MBA students this year. We thought healthcare was a natural place to start with that kind of an endeavor.

The other thing that kind of pops up but isn’t really new is leadership. Students are always looking for more ways to develop leadership.

So what are some ways Wharton is helping meet that desire to develop leadership skills?

We have a core course, which we’ve had for a couple of decades now. But in addition, we have an elective that we’ve had for at least one decade, if not more, on executive leadership. That’s particular to the executive MBA program. And then students have been asking for more so we have a course on leading teams that we’ve introduced. And now we’re looking to see if we can partner with some faculty to do a course for our executive education arm—that’s our non-degree granting arm—not to be confused with our MBA for executives. They do something focused on leadership for women. We’re going to see if we can do something there even if it isn’t a course, although we might be able to offer it as an independent study. We might do something for a one-time seminar basis.

And there are other classes that we offer that not labeled leadership but I’d say are very much related to leadership. A good example is our course on managing change. And it’s a particularly interesting course for us that is  taught by one of our alumni, David Pottruck in San Francisco. He was the CEO of Charles Schwab and has a great personal story. And he just does a wonderful job teaching this subject from both a theoretical and practical perspective.

Also, entrepreneurship is something that comes up. Interestingly, not just in San Francisco, in Philadelphia, too. It’s actually one of the things that I think drives the cross-coast interest because you get a lot of people coming here to Philadelphia, they take some classes, they meet some classmates, they get some ideas, and then they go over to San Francisco and they get immersed in that culture as well. And I think that’s been a great benefit.

Do the two different programs attract different students?

You know, there’s probably more similarities than there are differences. But just because of location, I think there is what you’d probably imagine to be some broader differences that do exist. We have slightly more of a tilt to finance here on the east coast just because of proximity to New York. And likewise, a tilt to government because of our proximity to Washington. And of course in San Francisco, there’s a little bit of a tilt to technology. But that’s not to say you don’t get government or finance in San Francisco or technology in Philadelphia, it’s just less so.

But this newer interest in healthcare and entrepreneurship—it really is on both coasts. And actually the other area of interest that has been growing lately is real estate. And that’s both coasts, too.

Are there any trends emerging in the applicant pool and among those who ultimately enroll at Wharton?

We’re finding that applicants and students have more diverse interests which has brought about the attention we’re devoting to energy and health care. The entrepreneurial interests of the students has definitely grown over the last six or so years—I think in keeping with the general economy. We are also seeing that in government. You know, we’re also really happy to see an uptick in the number of women. That’s really been wonderful to see. We always want to see more of that, but it’s nice that we’re on that trajectory.

Another thing we’re happy to see is diversity in terms of where our applicants are coming from. So it’s not just the New York to Washington corridor for Philadelphia. It’s not just the Bay Area for San Francisco. We really have branched out to L.A. to Seattle to Denver and Phoenix. So we’re really attracting a much broader applicant pool for San Francisco, which brings with it that diversity of interests, too. And it’s the same thing in Philadelphia, although that’s not totally new, but I think we’re seeing more so people coming from the South in terms of Florida and North Carolina. And then we do get applicants and people matriculating from as far as Europe. We even had a guy who made it every other weekend from Russia in the past two years. Those people are heroes.

The other interesting thing, which I don’t think is so much unique to Wharton, is this trend of being more self-funded in an executive program—moving away from sponsorship.

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